Dubai will spend hundreds of millions of dirhams to improve the lives of fishermen and modernise fishing ports.
Investing in an historical way of life
DUBAI // For 16 years Mobeen Ibrahim has lived in a small wooden shack at the fishing harbour in Jumeirah One. He and 200 other fishermen, mainly from India, have no electricity, running water or air conditioning during the searing heat of the summer. Their shacks are small, airless and dingy. Some are made of cardboard boxes bearing the logos of electronic goods, some from planks salvaged from construction sites. The lucky ones live in small, windowless concrete boxes built more than 30 years ago and once inhabited by Emirati fishermen. Mr Ibrahim and the others get up each morning at 4am and head 40 to 50 kilometres out to sea to fish with equipment that would not have looked out of place 200 years ago, when Dubai became a thriving centre of fishing and pearling and its economy began to tick. Fishing was once deeply rooted in Dubai's culture and tradition and although Emiratis have taken to the sea in other emirates such as Umm al Quwain and Ras al Khaimah, none of Mr Ibrahim's colleagues are locals. In a bid to address the imbalance the Dubai Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation has announced a Dh300 million (US$82m) development and renovation project to attract young Emiratis back to the industry and improve the living standards of fishermen. The aim is to save the ancient legacy that once offered the Bani Yas tribe economic stability after the uncertainty of the desert. The four historic harbours along the Dubai coast - Jumeirah One, Umm Sequim One, Umm Sequim Two and Hamriyah fishing port in Deira - will undergo major development and infrastructural improvement. "We need to salvage this industry and bring it to the modern age as the whole city is changing and we need to get Emiratis back into the tradition of fishing, which is part of our history and culture," said Mansour Bou Saeba, the project director. He said improving the quality of life for the fishermen was an important factor in sustaining the traditional profession. For the fisherman, the news could not have been more welcome. "For 16 years I have been living in that box over there. There is no air conditioning and we have just run out of space to house new people," said Mr Ibrahim, who has two brothers working with him and three children in his native state of Kerala in India. Taj ul Deen, another fisherman from India, has been living at the Jumeirah One harbour for three years, sharing a shack with his friend Ramesh because there is nowhere else to go. "It's a small place, but it is only for sleeping. We work long hours, make food and then play cards. We need running water and we need electricity and good equipment, but the pay is good and we are generally happy with that," said Ramesh, who earns Dh1,700 (US$465) a month. Less experienced fishermen earn Dh300 to Dh500 less on average. The plan for the four harbours has several sections, including a dedicated community for fishermen with the tools of their trade, facilities including shops selling fishing tools, workshops for repairing fishing boats, a fish market, mosques and tourist and recreational facilities such as yacht basins, restaurants and shopping malls that will cater to the fishermen and residents as well as tourists. "If we sell our fish here instead of going to Deira it would be better for us," Mr Ibrahim said. He seemed happy that his ice box would be replaced by an ice maker to keep the fish fresh after the catch. Ahmed Butti Ahmed, the executive chairman of the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation, said the fishermen would stamp the character of their profession on the harbours, making them attractive to tourists. "The project will be a tourist landmark identified by the fishing profession and its development, supporting fishermen and creating a respectable life for them and their family members," Mr Ahmed said. "In addition to this it will support the tourism industry by attracting visitors from all over the world and enable Emiratis to go fishing as a hobby and practise other sea sports thanks to the modern ports facilities. This will bring considerable economic benefits for the welfare of the local community of Dubai," he added. He said the project followed the directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, on preserving the national identity and the heritage of Dubai by reviving an old vocation that had started to die out as a result of lifestyle changes and the rapid advances of modern civilisation. Emiratis who became inhabitants of Dubai at the turn of the century became hunters, fishermen and, most of all, pearlers. For Bin Seyf al Mansouri, the head of the UAE Fisherman's Association, the prospect of Emiratis returning to basic industries was welcome news. "I am absolutely delighted that we have recognised and acted upon the tradition of fishing in Dubai. This will improve the living standards of current fishermen and encourage Emiratis to go back to the age-old tradition and keep our culture going." He said the investment would benefit generations to come. According to the Government, fishing and traditional boat building techniques date back 200 years or more. Local historians say the industry is much older and goes back a thousand years. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org